• on Dec 2nd, 2013 in Products & Services | 226 comments

    Young or old Elvis? That was the question 20 years ago when the U.S. Postal Service considered artwork for the Elvis stamp. The Postal Service put the vote to the public and controversy soon followed. Members of Congress debated the worthiness of an Elvis stamp, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton weighed in, and the whole thing became fodder for cartoonists and late-night comedians, according to the National Postal Museum.

    Elvis Mania paid off and the Elvis stamp went on to become the most popular U.S. commemorative stamp of all time.

    Now comes the Harry Potter stamp. He may not be the cultural icon Elvis is, but he’s created no less controversy. The Postal Service hopes the stamp will be a blockbuster to rival the king of rock n’ roll. The organization also hopes a Harry Potter stamp – and other youth-themed stamps – will spark interest in stamp collecting among the younger generation. But some philatelists think the idea of a Harry stamp is all wrong. For one thing, Harry Potter isn’t even American. Philatelists tend to view stamps as works of art and small pieces of American history. They balk at images that are blatantly commercial.

    The disagreement has put stamp collecting and the entire process for choosing a stamp in the news. The news reports also raise the issue of the future of stamps. Stamp collecting is seen by some as a dying hobby, as fewer young Americans participate. The stamp controversy actually underscores a larger Postal Service dilemma: How does it stay relevant among a generation that doesn’t really think too often about stamps or even hard copy communications? The postmaster general, for one, has said the Postal Service needs to start thinking differently. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said the agency “needs to change its focus toward stamps that are more commercial” as a way to increase revenue to compensate for declining mail volume as Americans switch to the Internet.

    Tell us what you think:

    • Should the Postal Service market stamp images that focus on a younger audience in hopes of reaching beyond traditional collectors and generating sales?
    • Should the Postal Service be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage for the sake of sales?
    • Or, should stamps be works of art and pieces of history and not based on fads or celebrities?
    • What stamp images would you like to see?
  • on Nov 25th, 2013 in Pricing & Rates | 1 comment

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. Maybe so. It’s just not usually FedEx that is doing the imitating or the flattering. But with its new “simple and predictable” flat rate shipping option, FedEx seems to be trying to look like the U.S. Postal Service in one particular way.

    The FedEx One Rate bears more than passing resemblance to the popular Priority Mail Flat Rate, suggesting FedEx is shifting strategy to become more aggressive in the light-weight retail package segment it once largely ceded to the Postal Service.

    And yet, the products aren’t identical. For one thing, FedEx One Rate isn’t quite as simple as Priority Mail Flat Rate. Unlike Priority Mail Flat Rate, One Rate has weight limits: 10 lbs. for an envelope and 50 lbs. for a parcel. It also charges based on distance across three zones of travel. Your package is going through more than one zone? You’re paying more.

    Then again, FedEx One Rate comes with free packaging, like Priority Mail, and FedEx is waiving some – but not all – associated surcharges, like residential and fuel surcharges. Customers who find that surcharges add significantly to the shipping cost will likely smile.

    All in all, customers should be well-served by having another retail shipping option this holiday season. The National Retail Federation expects retail sales in November and December will rise 3.9 percent over last year to $602 million - $738 per shopper – and some of those purchases will certainly be gift-wrapped and put in a shipping box.

    While the FedEx product appears less simple, it could have other features that customers might prefer. A customer might find the hours at a nearby FedEx Kinko’s more convenient than the local Post Office. And, FedEx’s enduring image as a reliable shipper might make FedEx One Rate more appealing to some. Still, others might prefer the simplicity and certainty of the Priority Mail Flat Rate, with its one-price-goes-anywhere approach. Too early to tell.

    But maybe you can give us an idea:

    • What are your holiday shipping plans this year?
    • Do you plan to use one of these simplified packaging products?
    • Does convenience outweigh simplicity? Or vice versa?
    • What other retail package services would you like to see? 
  • on Nov 18th, 2013 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 1 comment

    The generation known as Digital Natives – born and raised in the age of the Internet – are said to live much of their lives online in one way or another. Indeed, while use of email is hardly exclusive to their demographic, it’s no coincidence that their rise has corresponded with the decline of mail volume.

    Now that Digital Natives account for the largest segment of the American population and are growing more influential every year in their buying power, it’s more important than ever to ensure the U.S. Postal Service is engaging this group. But do Digital Natives currently see any value in the mail?

    Surprisingly, yes. In our recently released white paper, Enhancing Mail for Digital Natives, we found Digital Natives have an abiding interest in the mail. In fact, Digital Natives check their mailboxes daily. They’re mainly interested in packages – things bought online, of course – but they also like regular mailpieces, especially those that integrate some type of digital technology, like augmented reality. Digital Natives said that if regular mail ever disappeared they would be unhappy for a variety of reasons - citing everything from no more handwritten notes to postal employees who would be out of a job.

    The white paper analyzes results from Digital Native focus groups recently convened specifically to assess current uses and perceptions of the mail. And some of those results are interesting, to say the least:

    • Digital Natives feel an emotional attachment to mail that they don’t feel with digital communications.
    • Digital Natives still appreciate receiving certain types of physical mail that are useful, such as coupons, and are more likely to use them when the hard copy coupon can be uploaded and used through a smartphone.
    • Their anticipation of packages leads them not only to check their mail daily but also look at mail they might otherwise ignore.
    • Digital natives still look at catalogs, but catalogs are more likely to lead to a purchase if they can be scanned by mobile phones or tablets.

    The paper details these and other findings that could help both the Postal Service and mailers develop strategies for making mail even more appealing to Digital Natives, and thus continue to meet current and future public needs.

    Do you agree with the findings of the focus groups, especially if you consider yourself a Digital Native? Let us know what you think. 

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